Women and Science

Home Education Unit Plans Women and Science

Women and Science

Observing science textbooks of the 1800s gives students the opportunity to learn the historical roots of their scientifical lessons. One way to accomplish this lesson is through botany. The following lesson combines history with language arts and science in order to learn the parts of a plant, poetry, and how to create a herbarium using 19th century textbooks specifically designed for women.

In the mid-1700s, Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus created a system of taxonomy that revolutionized botanical study and is the basis for our modern system of classification. Linnaeus’ work was made possible by communication with networks of learned scholars and collectors, which included women. These scholars argued that botany, in particular, was a suitable science for women to learn, and by the 1800s, it became an integral part of women’s education.

Educated women were expected to understand plant classification, and in the 1800s, a number of women published botanical textbooks. Women used their botanical knowledge to improve various tasks within the domestic sphere, such as medicinal herbs. Women would also keep herbaria, a book of dried plants, in conjunction with schoolwork, or while traveling abroad. The Linnaean system would be used to determine a plant’s class, genus, and species, and women used this knowledge to identify the various plants in their herbaria. In addition, in a woman’s herbarium, she would sometimes attach poetry or sentiments to the plants as a way of demonstrating her knowledge and beautifying the object. One example is the herbarium kept by Emily Dickinson, created during her time at Amherst Academy. Dickinson’s herbarium has more recently received attention when it was digitized and now acts as a preserved example of the importance of botany at female education.  

By 1800, botany was fairly common at female seminaries. Earlier institutions limited women to “feminine” or ornamental studies, such as embroidery, etiquette, and various other domestic responsibilities. These new seminaries, including the Troy Female Seminary founded in 1821, sought to provide women curricula comparable to what men received. The broader-based education included math, science, and history. 


Arts and Culture
Science and Medicine

Big Ideas

Historical Context
US History

Essential Questions

How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


  • Textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic sites are central to understanding United States history.
  • Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.


  • Analyze a primary source for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time and place in United States history.
  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations for a specific time and place.

End of Unit Assessment

Have the students create their own herbarium along with poetry and classification using the instructions from Almira Phelps Lincoln's book.